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July 31, 2005

Into something rich and strange
Posted by Patrick at 07:17 AM * 163 comments

Via Metafilter, a page at Snopes detailing a certain kind of question intermittently received by the managers of that site.

Most are on the order of “does urinating on a lemon tree make it grow quicker,” but a few appear to be part of a longer and more mysterious narrative:

I’ve heard that it is impossible to take a lightbulb out of your mouth once one puts it in, without either breaking the bulb or dislocating the jaw.

Do you know if this is true? I’m counting on you—my husband is really curious, and I don’t want to have to drive him to the hospital…

One can only imagine this particular query was emailed from the middle of a one-act Ionesco play in progress.

Comments on Into something rich and strange:
#1 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 08:28 AM:

I think my favorite one is I've been told that if you snort powdered glass as you would cocaine, you will die. Is this just a rumor, or would it actually happen?

Sounds to me like the makings of a Darwin Award.

#2 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 08:30 AM:

What on earth possesses people to tempt fate like that? Is it alcohol, boredom, lack of attention? I have a friend that is an EMT, he says he has seen people (yes, it has happened more than once) with a light bulb stuck…places.

#3 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 09:11 AM:

How does one put a lightbulb in to one's mouth in any way that would make it difficult or not intuitive to remove? I'm having trouble with my imagination here guys -- any suggestions? Does this guy have a threaded jaw or something?

#4 ::: Brian Ledford ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 10:09 AM:

Jeremy

I think the idea is that your mouth is going to act akin to a lobster trap. You'll be able to shove the lightbulb in until the fat part is past your teeth and it will get stuck there. I can't imagine getting a lightbulb into my mouth so I'm having trouble imagining that part, but if you need to have a pronounced overbite in order to get it in, it could also be the case that the inserted lightbulb prevents the reverse.

#5 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 11:08 AM:

It IS a lot harder to get the lightbulb out than to put it in. It sort of clicks into place...the slope of the bulb pushes the jaw apart going in, because pushing IN pushes OPEN. This doesn't work coming out.

I was a kid (well, a teenager). I swear.

#6 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 11:12 AM:

WARNING: don't try it. I have an unusually large mouth. (I used to be able to put my fist in it, but I haven't tried in years.) My jaw doesn't unlock like a snakes, but I've spent a lot of time doing stretch-opens (no, you perverts, it was for singing).

I was barely able to get the lightbulb out. Even I was only stupid enough to do this once.

#7 ::: Laurie Sefton ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 11:55 AM:

Way back when, I was packing a tube full of silica, when one of the stall-muckers wandered into the lab, grabbed a handful of the stuff that had fallen to the lab bench (silica that you use to take cruft out of solutions is fairly fluffy and tends to get everywhere, even when you're using a hood), made a joke about cocaine, and proceeded to *snort* a handful of the stuff.

The bloody nose that followed was spectacular.

#8 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 01:14 PM:

I was barely able to get the lightbulb out. Even I was only stupid enough to do this once.

Oh, Making Light, how I love thee.

#9 ::: Jesse ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 01:29 PM:

I just stuck a 75-watt light bulb in my mouth and removed it without much problem. I guess my mouth is really big.

(I have not had anything intoxicating to drink today. I am too curious for my own good.)

#10 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 01:35 PM:

I imagine that certain massage techniques used in assisting in childbirth would be useful in helping someone remove a stuck light bulb from the mouth.

#11 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 01:44 PM:

This whole thread makes me think of the story about a good friend of mine who (as a child) put an olive up his nose, requiring a trip to the emergency room to get it out. His mother delights in telling this story at holiday gatherings.

#12 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 01:49 PM:

Oh I see, so you put the whole thing in, not just the part that's intended to be inserted into a receptacle... I guess it would be easier if you used one of the little "candle flame" type of bulbs, or a christmas tree light. Have any sword swallowers ever attempted to engulf a fluorescent tube?

#13 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 01:52 PM:

There is indeed a whole set of techniques for intra-oral work, much of which is banned in many states unless one is trained as a dental technician (don't get me started on the sillinesses of massage regulation, please!). The techniques are similar in concept, Kathryn, but very different in execution -- and (as with childbirth) they're a lot more useful when applied earlier in the process rather than in the exegencies of the extraction. Good intra-oral work can make it possible for most people to insert three or four fingers between their teeth. And most people are much less flexible in their mouths than they think they are....

#14 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 01:57 PM:

I dunno. I really like the guy whose cat is sizing him up as a post-mortem snack.

#15 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 02:01 PM:

It seemed to me that the question at issue was more whether the author was schizophrenic than whether his cat was going to eat his face.

#16 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 02:18 PM:

Only one, but the light bulb has to want to . . . uh, never mind.

#17 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 02:29 PM:

...Actually, ISTR an article in the New Yorker wherein Our Boys were reminiscing over some souvenir photos, including one of a dead Iraqi whom they'd nicknamed "Catlips" because before his body was discovered, his mouth had been eaten by feral cats. They reproduced the picture, which only showed him from the neck up, and indeed his lips had been chewed off. However, his nose, eyelids, ears, and other parts that might be considered soft and chompy had remained intact. Beats me.

Can't find the article in the New Yorker online archive at the mo, but it's probably just as well. (Their archives don't seem to include pix, alas?)

#18 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 02:31 PM:

This whole thread makes me think of the story about a good friend of mine who (as a child) put an olive up his nose, requiring a trip to the emergency room to get it out.

That's odd; what it is making me think of is juniper twigs.

#19 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 02:32 PM:

I have indeed seen a sword swallower swallow a neon tube. The lights were then dimmed to show his throad glowing.

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 04:27 PM:

The web is full of photographs of the swallowing of objects of remarkable size.

Some of the photographs do not seem to depend on CGI or other trickery.


#21 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 04:29 PM:

Jeremy Osner has a crucial point -- the phrase "light bulb" stimulates a mental image different from literal reality -- they actually exist in a wide variety of shapes and sizes... as do (in a manner of speaking) stupidity and thoughtlessness.

#22 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 04:55 PM:

The web is full of photographs of the swallowing of objects of remarkable size.

I do not, however, recommend searching for these photographs in a casual manner.

#23 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 06:40 PM:

Have any sword swallowers ever attempted to engulf a fluorescent tube?

Indeed Dan Mannix has, and describes it in vivid detail in one of my favorite books. He had two tubes, one red, one green but retired that particular trick after the one he wasn't swallowing exploded on its stand one night....

#24 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 07:09 PM:

growing luminous by eating light?

#25 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 08:00 PM:

A no-prize to the lady from Pleasantville, New York.

#26 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 08:29 PM:

It does stand to reason that sooner or later this blog would have a discussion of the merits and techiques of swallowing live lightbulbs. We love the literal level, after all.

#27 ::: Terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 08:45 PM:

When I was younger I could place my fist in my mouth (it required a rocking motion, and, to some degree, closing the fist, into my mouth). It was easier to get in than out.

I can still place three fingers between my rear molars (vertically).

When I was working as a security guard at an ER we once spent the evening laughing at someone who had gotten a new toy stuck behind the anus (it's very grabby, and a vibrator is built to go in, the flat plane at the rear causes problems when one get's completely inside).

It wasn't that he'd gotten it stuck, that happened, to someon, every month or so. It was that they had been so eager to use it that no batteries had been inserted (he admitted that it was a Christmas present).

Our sense of humor was skewed.

On the other hand, the rule was that vibrator which were on (the majority) weren't gone after until the batteries had died.

On occasion light-bulbs were "lost" in a similar manner. If they broke (not as uncommon as one might like to think) the removal method was not surgery, but rather a plaster of paris enema.

TK

#28 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 09:25 PM:

I imagine that certain massage techniques used in assisting in childbirth would be useful in helping someone remove a stuck light bulb from the mouth.

Wait, how would massaging the abdomen help get a light bulb out of one's mouth?

#29 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 09:42 PM:

Perhaps I should let Tom explain, but it's not massage of the abdomen I was aluding to.

#30 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 10:05 PM:

Perhaps I should let Tom explain, but it's not massage of the abdomen I was aluding to.

Oh, drat! And I've already sent my question off to Snopes, too...

#31 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 10:46 PM:

his lips had been chewed off. However, his nose, eyelids, ears, and other parts that might be considered soft and chompy had remained intact.
Perhaps not entirely relevant, but a herd of killer whales, in the first part of last century, helped the human whalers at Twofold Bay in New South Wales by herding humpbacks into range of the harpoons. The only reward they seemed to want was the lips of the humpbacks after they had been killed--the humans were welcome to all the rest.

#32 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 11:00 PM:

I don't think anybody needs to worry about light bulbs and personal safety. Any day now somebody at the Heimatssicherungsdienst is going to be reminded that, forty years ago, Our BW Guys used them to spread B. subtilis in the NY subway, and possession of a light bulb by anyone not officially authorized to spread germs will classify the bearer as an enemy combatant, no matter which part of his or her body it's occupying.

And no, that's not an urban legend.

#33 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 12:51 AM:

Uh, I can put 3 fingers between my teeth without difficulty and 4 if I stretch. This is unusual? Of course, I also once won a contest in a bar by tying a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue...

MKK

#34 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 12:56 AM:

But can you do this?

#35 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 01:20 AM:

I must comment that dead bodies *don't* have any value, legally. This measure was designed to prevent corpse-snatching and selling bodies for their organs.

...I know this because a former professor at my college once had a body 'borrowed' from her possession, and couldn't get the cops to take the case because the body wasn't worth anything.

#36 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 01:23 AM:

Here's an unanswerable question: Why are wacky questions often billed as "unanswerable"? I can think of answers to most of the questions in Snopes' list. Most are "no" or "it depends". One in fact is answered by Snopes.

Nuclear Fusion makes the stars to shine;
Tropisms make the ivy twine;
Rayleigh scattering makes the skies so blue;
Testicular hormones is why I love you.
-- Asimov

#37 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 03:14 AM:

(hrm. Thought I'd posted this, but must have got distracted somewhere.)

I don't think the question is "unanswerable" in the sense of "has no factual response," but in the sense of "the question displays a reasoning so lateral that the factual reply has no place to sit down."

To one example, if you snort crushed glass, thou shalt not surely die, just as if you put a .38 Special against your temple and pull the trigger you will not infallibly join the bleedin' choir invisible. It is the nature of the question, and what prompted it, that causes potential answerers to stay their facilitations in consideration of, where the heck did this come from and if we facilitate it are we going to have to explain ourselves to the Medical Examiner? Which being deconstructed runs, "we were watching Pulp Fiction on DVD, and we started arguing about the effects of various white powdery substances that might be found around the average suburban household on the upper sinus equipment, and by the time the eighteenth Miller Lite had kicked in we'd kinda exhausted the possibilities of the kitchen, the bathroom, and the bedside table -- like you do -- and as we were headed down the the the the basement, the shop table window got smashed by the cat that we used to have when the girls lived here, and it kinda expanded our field of inquiry. Now, we're online, and Natasha -- we can't remember if she was the one with the cat or was the cat an sich -- had this place bookmarked and kept rubbing our noses in stuff she looked up there, which is why we thought of you in our hour of need."

Or in different terms, sometimes noumenon just gives phenomenon a significant wedgie and steals its wallet.

#38 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 03:26 AM:

Or put another way, if you have to ask, why aren't you already in the Emergency Room?

(Off topic: My definitive Not Going to Glasgow post is up: On Living in Someone Else's Utopia.)

#39 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 03:42 AM:

Apart from the lips, the orcas liked to take the tongue of whalers' kills. The town of Eden, ~500k south of Sydney on the Far South Coast of New South Wales, is on Twofold Bay. It's the last big settlement before the Victorian border if you're travelling the coastal route Sydney-Melbourne. Whaling and sealing were a very early substantial industry around Australia, and survived into the 20th Century. Some whale jawbones displayed around Sydney Harbour have only been removed in the last couple of decades.

The story of the "Killers of Eden" has been put into at least a couple of books, Killers of Eden: The Killer Whales of Twofold Bay, by Tom Mead. and Killers in Eden, by Danielle Clode.
Here are the local Eden Community Access Centre History of Eden page, and one for the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

And some stories from the ABC Site:
Ockahm's Razor: Killers in Eden Broadcast Sunday 3 November 2002, with Robyn Williams; Whales, Fish & Sealions Andrew Trites on the Science Show, Saturday 29 May 2004; Eden Killers Radio National Breakfast, 8:24am - Tuesday 30 July 2002, with Danielle Clode

#40 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 04:08 AM:

Not that it wasn't already obvious, but you guys have made it painfully clear that you have Big Mouths.

I think back to an evening of drinking in Tokyo with my company's customers when I was mortified to realize that I couldn't open my mouth wide enough to get a shot glass past my teeth. That my brother couldn't either was scant amelioration.

#41 ::: sdn ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 06:56 AM:

of course, there's also this, which is (in)famous.

i think a lot of people need new hobbies.

#42 ::: sdn ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 07:00 AM:

my link, of course:

http://www.well.com/user/cynsa/newbutt.html

#43 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 09:28 AM:

Mr Ford: I know the B. subtilis story is kosher, but why did they use lightbulbs? Why not just glass tubes or jars? After all, if you are in a lab and you think "Gosh, I need an airtight container which will break on impact" there are a lot of things to hand which suit your purpose better than a lightbulb.

And I think that the equivalent German phrase is Reichssicherheitshauptamt - literally Reich Security Head Office.

Ajay's Law of Domestic Policy: never implement any policy initiative which sounds unnerving or menacing when translated into German.

#44 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 10:08 AM:

I really feel for the impassioned plee for a quick answer to the question concerning contact lenses, suction and eyeballs. It was all in caps, implying that someone in a dire predicament ran to their computer and sent off an email to Snopes. Why they didn't call the paramedics is the real question. But then, Mr. Marx never did fond out how the Elephant got in his pajamas, so obviously, there really are things man was not meant to know.

#45 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 10:12 AM:

As some of you know, I'm an EMT, and have worked in an ER.

While you find all kinds of things in all sorts of orifices (peas in noses, for example), so far I've never yet transported or seen or heard about anyone with a lightbulb in their mouth.

(You wouldn't believe the number of folks who get things stuck significantly lower. The best part of those is hearing the stories ... "There I was, changing a lightbulb in my kitchen ceiling in the nude, when I fell off the table and it just must have gone in....")

On the subject of pets eating faces, Tae the Paramedic From Hell has a funny story.... http://www.netreach.net/~rjones/taestuff/been.html

#46 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 10:32 AM:

Contact lens question: press one index finger on the corner of your eye. With the index finger of the other hand, push the wayward contact lens toward that corner of the eye. Presuming it's a soft lens, it will buckle, breaking the suction. (With a hard lens, you wouldn't have this problem.)

#47 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 10:38 AM:

(Now that I think about it, I recall that a friend of mine in high school had a psychotic break that focused around the conviction that he could not get his contact lenses out.)

#48 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 11:23 AM:

OK well finally went over and read the page. I've got to say the finest, most thought provoking question asked there is:


can you tell me how i would analyze the effect each statistic has on the world.

Not exactly Snopes-y nor the kind of thing that makes you wonder what the circumstances of asking were; but a beautiful question, a beautiful quest to embark upon.

#49 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 11:30 AM:

a friend of mine in high school had a psychotic break that focused around the conviction that he could not get his contact lenses out

From the tv show House:

Dr. House: What's wrong with you?

Patient #2: I can't get my contact lenses out.

House, peering: Out of what? They're not in your eyes.

Patient: But they're red.

House: That's because you're trying to remove your corneas. [moves on to Patient #3]

#50 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 11:44 AM:

Ajay has postulated a Law of Domestic Policy: never implement any policy initiative which sounds unnerving or menacing when translated into German.

I don't know if this its intended consequence, but this Law would include MOST policy initiatives.

#51 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 12:24 PM:

Bob Oldendorf:
I don't know if this its intended consequence, but this Law would include MOST policy initiatives.

It would include most things.

#52 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 12:30 PM:

Only if you only hear German spoken in WWII movies. If, on the other hand, you've heard a bunch of giggly young gayboys speaking it, it's really hard to find anything menacing in THAT.

#53 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 02:33 PM:

Kathryn Cramer,
I looked at your blog, but couldn't figure out how to reply. It may hearten you to know that the Usonian Inn, http://www.usonianinn.com/ in Spring Green, Wisconsin, is still open for business. We stayed there last year. I believe it was designed by one of Wright's students. An amazing building and very pleasant. I'd recommend it to anyone going to see the House on the Rock or anything else in the area.

#54 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 03:56 PM:

Kathryn, rigid lenses can suction onto part of the eye and refuse to move. This has happened to me when they've slipped onto parts of my misshapen eyeballs where they didn't belong and my eyes were fairly dry to begin with. My first eye doctor gave me a miniature plunger for this problem (shaped just like a toilet plunger, but about the length of the first joint of my thumb). My subsequent eye doctors have said that's a really bad idea and have advised sitting quietly with eyes closed and waiting for the tears to lubricate the nearby eye surface enough that it can be slid out of its suctioned location and back to where it belongs (and then, ideally, out, so as not to irritate the eye further).

#55 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 03:59 PM:

Why not use rewetting solution? Like the tears, only faster?

#56 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Xopher: Only if you only hear German spoken in WWII movies.

If we weren't 30-some years too late, I would introduce you to my grandfather. He could describe his garden and make it sound "unnerving or menacing".

(OTOH, I have relatives who claim that Goethe has to be the World's Greatest Poet, because he was handicapped by having to work within the German Language.)

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 04:15 PM:

Has anybody written to the MythBusters to see if they'd be willing to test the lightbulb's extraction? This couldn't be weirder than some of the things they HAVE tested. I think.

#58 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 04:28 PM:

ajay: I believe the idea of the lightbulbs was to a) have a reliably fragile carrier (laboratory glassware isn't supposed to be all that breakable) and b) leave debris that would not be likely to draw the attention of the MTA janitors. Or, presumably, the Moscow janitors, since the idea at the time was to have data that would be applicable to a (purely hypothetical, of course) attack on Soviet subways, and lightbulbs (Russian lightbulbs, one supposes) would be a less obvious dispersal method than some other sort of glassware. It probably also occurred to somebody that Spritzing the Subway might also occur to the Enemies of Capitalism, and if if did, having the dispersal data would be useful.

#59 ::: Gen ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 04:29 PM:

I've had soft contacts scurry up under my eyelids and refuse to come back down. Have to admit wondering about the probability of one falling down behind my eye, to rattle about in my empty haid.

#60 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 04:39 PM:

And I've been in a number of ENT clinics that had wall displays of Stuff We Found Inside People, mostly though not exclusively children. (Haven't seen one of these recently, so they may have gone out of fashion . . . at least where the patients can see them.) My reading also includes emergency-service magazines, and one could put together a whole book of True Tales of Extraction, though one would probably feel bad about it the morning after.

I'm always reminded of those showcases at the airport, where they have a Wall O' Seized Stuff, presented as if every nailfile confiscated from a passenger represents a terrorist incident prevented.

#61 ::: Lloyd Burchill ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 04:49 PM:

German's brawny sound is addressed in this favorite passage from Damon Knight's In Search of Wonder:

...I believe no serious student will contradict me when I say that, on the whole, the German text represents an enormous improvement over the English.
Take, for example, the well-known first sentence of Campbell's "Wer Da?"

The place stank.

This is a short, skinny, pallid sentence; it understates; it is half ashamed of itself. But see what a robust, impressive, nose-filling thing it becomes in the German:

Der Raum war voller Gestank.

Even when our English-speaking writer is doing his best, as in Padgett's:

"S-s-s-spit!" Emma shrieked, overcome by a sudden fit of badness. "Spit."

--the Teuton can better him without even breathing hard:

"Ssspucke!" schrie Emma in einem ploetzlichen Anfall von Ungezogenheit. "Spucke."

#62 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 06:17 PM:

John M Ford: I believe the idea of the lightbulbs was to a) have a reliably fragile carrier (laboratory glassware isn't supposed to be all that breakable) and b) leave debris that would not be likely to draw the attention of the MTA janitors.

Since this was back in the day when most stations were lit by incandescent bulbs, there would have been a dead giveaway. To prevent people from stealing the light bulbs, subway stations used a special variety that were threaded backwards, so they screwed in counterclockwise. An observant (and presumably non-killed-by-plague) track cleaner might notice this. Assuming anyone bothered to clean the tracks...

#63 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 06:55 PM:

Mris, the doctor told me the baby suction cup was for emergencies, when the lens had to come out RIGHT THEN. I've never had to use it. I have gas permeables because I have a scar in my left eye.

#64 ::: Niall H. ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 07:01 PM:

Gen: This is why English people drink _bitter_. It's got just the right ph balance and osmotic pressure to act as a great eye-lubricant. While I worry people by saying "mine's a pint of Best; my lenses are playing up", I've not lost a lens in 15 years.

#65 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 07:49 PM:

And I've been in a number of ENT clinics that had wall displays of Stuff We Found Inside People, mostly though not exclusively children. (Haven't seen one of these recently, so they may have gone out of fashion . . . at least where the patients can see them.)

There's one on the wall of the waiting room at the Otolaryngology clinic at Children's Hospital in Boston. My knees get weak when I see some of that stuff.

#66 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 08:17 PM:

Now I'm imagining a poster on the wall of the ENT office with a picture of a Happy Meal premium and the caption, "Have You Seen Me?"

#67 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 08:32 PM:

I dunno about that. There's a Schubert (I think it is) lied called "Liebes Botschaft" (or some such) which turns out to mean "Love's Message" and a direction on a score that reads "mit Ausdruck" which means, "with feeling". Both sound to me like something to be bellowed to a squad of neckless goons in coalscuttle helmets.

And wasn't it the Emperor Maximilian who remarked that he spoke Italian to his mistress, French to his soldiers and German to his horse?

#68 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 12:00 AM:

Bob,

I have to agree and disagree with your relatives about Goethe. While the german language has 1/3 the words of english (roughly) and can be harsh...at least I can make it rhyme properly!

#69 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 12:43 AM:

The meaning or feeling of the sounds of a language are all in how you associate them, not in the least inherent. German sounds to me, except in the voice of a nasty person, lovely, nurturing, inspiring, witty and most of all, optimistic and freedom-loving. Because my first experiences with German were my father reading German nursery rhymes (pretty ones, not Struwelpeter) and Ernst Busch singing Six Songs for Democracy. German, to me, is the language of "Freiheit" and "Moorsoldaten."

#70 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 01:38 AM:

Mary Kay, you're certainly unusual. And you're decidely unusual about that as well!

Jeremy, as someone who's worked as a statistician -- yes, that's a wonderful phrase.

#71 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 02:41 AM:

I just tried Mary Kay's experiment, and I found I could do the same thing: three fingers in the mouth easily, four if I stretch. Of course, I wound up stretching my jaw so far that it caused an unpleasant sensation like a pulled muscle afterwards in my tongue.

#72 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 04:03 AM:

Here's a question: is it possible to stick your hand in your mouth in such a way that you can't get it out?

#73 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 04:57 AM:

Dave Luckett, I think it was actually Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, who included "Spanish to my God".

Probably because my father did it, I tend to use German with dogs, even with my niece's miniature Pinschers, whom she generally commands in Italian.

It isn't clear to me that the dogs can tell the difference.

#74 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 06:48 AM:

Thr local policein our area use German commands with their police dogs. I think it's mostly because some of their German Shepards are imported from Germany; I suspect it also help prevent confusion with words said in English conversation.

#75 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 07:55 AM:

I'm not saying that German is intrinsically a nasty language. (Example: Brahms. I rest my case.)
Just that if a policy initiative, P, has certain features which are mildly worrying - especially the sort that involve setting up enormous bureaucracies or interfering with people - the mere act of translating P into German will tend to throw these features into sharp relief for everyone to see. And if the outcome is a general scepticism about all large mysterious interfering policy initiatives, then that's probably a good thing too.
Also, I'm talking from a UK perspective, where everyone really does learn German from war films. (Achtung, etc)

Mr Ford: good point about lightbulbs being inconspicuous. Especially in the USSR, where carrying around a non-working lightbulb was common practice: you took it into the office, substituted it for your desk light's bulb, then reported it and took the working bulb home. You did this because trying to get working lightbulbs from a shop in the USSR was a lengthy, soul-scorching, fruitless endeavour, while your State office would have a good supply.

#76 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 08:35 AM:

Here's a question: is it possible to stick your hand in your mouth in such a way that you can't get it out?

Maybe? Occasionally I bite into an apple in such a way that the chunk gets lodged up against my palate beyond the help of any mouth contortions (the range of which, I am told, is endlessly amusing to watch), and eventually I have to reach in with a finger or two to unjam it.

That said, apparently I could get my entire fist into my mouth if I had sufficient depth to accommodate it; it can fit in past the maximum diameter at the knuckles but runs out of space about halfway from the base of my thumb to my wrist. However, in the preparatory experiments, I noticed that at the four-finger stage, my jaws made their little TMJ popping noises on both sides as they slid out of their normal joints. I was relieved to notice that my knuckles did *not* get jammed between my palate and upper teeth, however, as that would've been difficult to explain even beyond purely physical limitations.

#77 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 09:04 AM:

Tom -- I was trying last night and this morning to think of different voices in which that question could be asked -- the first that comes to mind is sort of a childish, wonderstruck "Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?" or "Shall I Compare You to a Summer's Day" kind of affect, immediately counterbalanced by an imagined sneering, blustery "Ha! You statisticians think you're so great with all your numbers... but tell me, what effect has each statistic on the world?!" and then I don't know, a cold, clinical analyst's voice -- no personal involvement, just a dry assignment. His labmate OTOH is maniaically driven to discover what effect each statistic has on the world. And so on, and various shadings and combinations. It's a notion to conjure with.

#78 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 10:58 AM:

I always heard it was a billiard ball you could get in your mouth but not out again. I knew a girl who claimed she had done it and had to go to the ER where someone sawed the ball in half and removed it.

I was skeptical but not willing to try it myself.

I did see Johnny Fox swallow a purple florescent light tube at Renn Fair after hours one night. Everyone around me owed and ahhed while I cringed and remembered what happened the last time I saw one of those tubes implode. Do they implode or is that yet another piece of childhood misinformation and they really explode?

#79 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 11:11 AM:

Gee, those anecdotes make me glad I have a small mouth and a very strong gag reflex (plus innate cowardice).

#80 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 11:21 AM:

-- "Shall I Compare You to a Summer's Day" -- not sure how that snuck in there, it is out of place and does not communicate the tone I was thinking about.


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
    So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

#81 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 12:17 PM:

I just got back from a session at the dentist, where they had to use a child-size prop to keep my mouth open for work. And I'm an adult.

At least I'll never try to get a light bulb in. Why would you?

#82 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 01:08 PM:

Kathryn: Actually, it's the communications thing. Most American bad guys don't speak German so they can't countermand the dog.
It also helps the dog tell when he's working. German=work, English=time off.

#83 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 01:46 PM:

Four fingers without particularly straining.

Jeremy - I set that poem to music once. SATB. IIRC, most of the main melody is in 7/8, with an occasional 6/8 measure for variety. It actually flows quite naturally once you get the hang of it.

Patrick - can dogs really tell the difference between German and English?

#84 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 01:57 PM:

Nomie, was it one of those rubber-coated ratchety things? I endured those nasty gadgets through many dental sessions as a child. The discomfort was only somewhat offset by the copious doses of nitrous oxide that my pedodontist provided. I hear that most dentists don't use N2O any more; too bad.

And I thought that if you got something stuck in your mouth (billiard balls is what I heard, too) the emergency room guys would inject a muscle relaxant into your jaw to get you to open up.

#85 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 02:01 PM:

Patrick Connors:
Kathryn: Actually, it's the communications thing. Most American bad guys don't speak German so they can't countermand the dog.

Any dog that could be countermanded by a stranger while its handler is there commanding it is insufficiently trained.

Besides, what language would they command the dogs in in Germany?

#86 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 02:05 PM:

Kathryn Cramer - There's a tradition of training German Shepherds as a Schutzhund or "Protection/Safety Dog". This uses German commmands as a standard. I suspect that the cops speaking to their dogs in German either subscribe to this method or got their dogs pre-trained.

Patrick Connors - I don't think that the dog knows the difference between German and English. Even if a police dog is trained in English (or the attackee knows German) very few people strangers can successfully call off a properly trained dog.

In any case, I doubt too many of them (cops or dogs) could parse Goethe in the original.

#87 ::: Nick Kiddle ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 02:34 PM:

I used to date a guy whose first language was German. Since he spoke far better English than I did German, English became the language of mundane conversations and German became the language of love. A rough-edged, raunchy kind of love, perhaps, but that suited both of us well enough.

We also used to goof around saying mundane German phrases as if they were dire threats, or mundane Portuguese words as if they were passionate declarations. I can still get a laugh out of him by saying, breathlessly, "Fiambre! Queijo! Pastelaria!", which roughly translates as "Ham! Cheese! Cake shop!"

#88 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 03:08 PM:

Jamie Lee Curtis: Speak Russian to me!
John Cleese: Ruble! Molotov!

#89 ::: Terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 03:12 PM:

My mother told me that the Cleveland PD, in the late '60s, early '70s (when we were last living there) used German with their dogs, to prevent someone else from issuing a command.

For the same reason I have not used Russian on our dogs, because we want other people to be able to make them do some things.

TK

#90 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 06:05 PM:

I thought about countermanding, but German is a pretty common language. (What if the bad guys really are Nazis???) If the cops really want to avoid countermanding, they ought to be using Navaho.

Regarding impromptu eye drops: breast milk, should you have a handy supply (which I do). And it has the added benefit of natural antibiotics and antivirals.

#91 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 06:08 PM:

Xopher: No, I was insufficiently clear. A Larry has already pointed out, the commands that the dogs respond to are in German. As far as I've experienced (I have some search-and rescue experience), the officers don't speak German, they just use German commands.

Steve: Completely agree. Any working dog is insufficiently trained if a stranger can make it break training in a pinch.

Steve again: I have wondered that myself.

#92 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 06:10 PM:

Regarding the problem of sticking one's hand into one's mouth in such a way that one can't get it out: I think this one has strong evolutionary pressure on it with all mammals. Those who try it and succeed don't make it out of early childhood and so can't reproduce.

#93 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 06:19 PM:

But surely the hand/mouth ratio is different in small urchins than adults, considering their head/body proportions; besides, the cartilage in children's hands and fingers hasn't ossified nearly as much as in grown folk who ought to know better than to stuff their hands into their mouths anyway.

Or, just because we managed to survive something as children doesn't mean we could as adults. I'm certainly not planning to chew on my toes on a regular basis at this stage in life.

#94 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 06:24 PM:

Err... I suppose folks have seen that Hardee's TV commercial in which a woman sticks her fist into her mouth? There'a a commentary on it here.

#95 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 06:57 PM:

The Secret Service agent who lives in the next building has a dog that was trained in German before he got it. His underneath neighbor is always jealous that the government gives him a new minivan every year to cart the dog around, and she's still got the car she bought after college. I explained to her that she'd have to learn to control her bipolar better (she likes the manic parts and won't take her meds) before they'd consider her for SS.

#96 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 08:04 PM:

. . . but if she can teach a German Shepard to speak German, perhaps he will buy her a minivan.

Here's another question you were dying to know the answer to: what happens to a conventional diaper if a child wears it into a kiddie pool and then repeatedly jumps off a chair into the pool?

Answer: It explodes.

#97 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 08:07 PM:

Regarding the Hardee's commercial: eeeeeww!

#98 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 08:34 PM:

In re the "what language do the dogs speak when they're off duty" issue:

Algis Budrys, "The Master of the Hounds."

As usual, a genre writer Got There First.

#99 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 12:57 AM:

Jane (now James) Robinson wrote a lovely parody of that Shakespearean sonnet mentioned above, beginning

"Shall I compare thee to a stagnant pond"

and ending

"Thou breeding ground of mixomycophyte!
Aroint thee, I am sickened by the sight"

A simple google search doesn't turn up a copy of it on the Web. Too bad.

#100 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 01:38 AM:

Um, with the finger thing... how far are we talking? Because I just put all five in my mouth past the last knuckle (not counting the knuckles that are part of the palm), and I didn't need to make a special effort. I wouldn't have thought that I had a particularly big mouth, except in the metaphorical sense.

I can touch my nose with my tongue, though, most of the way out to the tip. OK, TMI.

#101 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 04:31 AM:

Are you trying to see how far you can get it in? Or are you trying to see if you can stick it in in such a way as to not be able to get it out? (I advise against the later.)

#102 ::: vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 05:03 AM:

Julie L: I can still chew on my toes.

I mean, you know, if I should want to.

#103 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 05:21 AM:

Snopes on Broadway
(Busby Berkeley/MGM, 1939)

"Look, kids, so whadda we care if you can't really get into the Ziegfeld Follies by dressing up as William Randolph Hearst and singing 'On the Good Ship Lollipop'?"
"And that was my favorite urban legend, too."
"I'll tellya what. We can put on our own show."
"Yeah! We can use my uncle's money and my daddy knows LaGuardia!"
"We'll need some acts and specialties. Billy, can you still get your hand so far into your mouth that you can't get it out again?"
"Mmmhrmph."
"Great! Eddie'll make sure to bring the winch and cable shears. Pollyann, does your Pekingese still speak German?"
"Gee manee, don'cha read the papers? But she still knows Mandarin."
"Even better! Okay, what else have we got rehearsed?"
"Lessee . . . We've got two sketches, 'Penguin Egg in Texas' and 'Who Stole the Dead Guy?', and the 'Invisible Bloodsucking Witches, Oh My!' number."
"Think you can handle that one, Judy?"
"I guess I'll try."
"There's a trouper! Mr. Berkeley's going to have so much fun with that. Now, all we need is for Mr. Hart to finish the lyrics for 'Licking the Perfume I Love,' 'Mouthful of Lightbulbs,' and 'I Turned Gay from a Milky Way,' and bright lights, here we come!"

#104 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 06:50 AM:

Here's another question you were dying to know the answer to: what happens to a conventional diaper if a child wears it into a kiddie pool and then repeatedly jumps off a chair into the pool?
Answer: It explodes.

Well, that's the drawback with a conventional diaper. A neutron diaper will at least leave the kiddie pool standing.

When you say 'explodes'; actually explodes? Cool. I must try this. Servitor! (My lord?) Bring me the least necessary of my small cousins.

#105 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 07:07 AM:

First, let me explain that as far as I know it was a clean diaper, and no human waste was involved with this process.

Commercial diapers -- in this case a PullUp -- are filled with polymer. That suspicious white powder is capable of absorbing really a lot of liquid. Steve Spangler's Science explains:

The Baby Diaper Secret One of the most common applications for super absorbent polymers is their use as the water-absorbing ingredient in baby diapers. That's right... baby diapers! It's possible that you may even have worn them for a few years not so long ago. Ask your parents about the difference this kind of diaper made in their attitudes about life.

In spite of their usefulness, these diapers can be a problem. If you've ever observed a baby in diapers splashing in a wading pool, you know that even one diaper can absorb lots and lots of water! Most public pools won't allow them to be worn in the water because huge globs of gooey gel can leak out and make a mess of the filter system. Also, some folks used to throw them away in toilets. Not a good idea unless you're a plumber.
. . . Determine the amount of water a disposable diaper can hold by slowly pouring about 1/4 cup (approximately 50 ml) of warm tap water into the center of the diaper. Holding the diaper over a dishpan or sink, and continue to add increments of water. Tip the diaper back and forth after adding water each time. Record the amount of water the diaper holds before it becomes saturated and steadily leaks. Try testing different brands of diapers.

I knew about the polymer. But last night when the kids were playing in the kiddie pool, I had decided to be cheap and not use a disposable swim diaper, since the things are expensive. My thought was so she'll have a bulky bottom. So what. When she's done, I'll just take it off. I had not anticipated that the kids would decide to jump off chairs into the kiddie pool, landing on their bottoms.

So when I took her long-sleeved, long-legged bathing suit off, all this stuff that looked like crushed ice fell out, all over the carpet. I reached out and touched it, expecting it to be cold, and wondering who had put the ice down her back and why wasn't she complaining about it.

But low and behold, it was the contents of an exploded diaper. Wonders never cease!

#106 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 08:01 AM:

So there was no blinding flash? No deafening roar? Rats...

#107 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:03 AM:

Kathryn, you may have just given my daughter her science project for next year's science fair . . . .

(no, she's not reading weblogs yet, but I'm making a list of interesting sounding science stuff, in hopes of not having to resort to the [wonderful] Janice Van Cleave)

#108 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:20 AM:

Yeah, I thought the story was leading up to "Bomb Squad called in for Exploding Diaper"

Do they use this super-absorbent polymer in menstrual pads too?

#109 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:22 AM:

As silver is drawn east to the Forbidden City; as the coiling eels are drawn to Sargasso, and the wide-winged albatross to the Utter South, so every conversation thread on this site turns to things exploding. Truly, time makes Infernokrushers of us all.

#110 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:55 AM:

Melissa Singer: If your daughter does that experiment, you might also want to compare salty water vs. fresh--polyelectrolites (the stuff they put in diapers) absorb a lot more fresh water, which is part of the reason that they can expand hugely in the pool but still leak with their, um, intended contents. As an undergrad, this was a demo I did at one of the local elementary schools. It's lots of fun.

(here's a link with probably more information than you need: http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Cockpit/8107/superabsorbe.html )

#111 ::: Metal Fatigue ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 11:17 AM:

Hey ajay, may I quote you?

#112 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 12:09 PM:

TChem:

Thanks for the tip.

I can just see me going around to my friends with infants, begging for diaper samples . . . .

It would be an interesting follow-up to what dd did last year, a study on the relative elasticity of frozen and never-frozen Bazooka Bubblegum (in both chewed and non-chewed states).

And if we put food coloring in the water, we'll even get an interesting-looking display! (I'm thinking blue . . . .)

#113 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 12:10 PM:

What happens to a dream diapered?

#114 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 12:25 PM:

You know, I was incredulous when I first read that a conventional diaper would explode in the pool.

But I'm really old, and when I see 'conventional diaper' I think the kind I remember (!) wearing: cloth ones. They definitely wouldn't explode under any circumstances, but put one on a baby in a pool and you'll soon have a crying baby.

Once I realized you meant these fancy newfangled corn-traptions full up with polywhatsit (coughs, shakes cane in air), it made a whole LOT more sense.

#115 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 12:39 PM:

"As silver is drawn east to the Forbidden City; as the coiling eels are drawn to Sargasso, and the wide-winged albatross to the Utter South, so every conversation thread on this site turns to things exploding. Truly, time makes Infernokrushers of us all."

Speaking of which, I forgot to post this:

*The Secret Society of Demolition Writers*: "In the spirit of the demolition derby, where drivers take heedless risks with reckless abandon, welcome to the first convocation of the Secret Society of Demolition Writers. Here is a one-of-a-kind collection by famous authors writing anonymously–and dangerously. With the usual concerns about reputations and renown cast side, these twelve daredevils have each contributed an extreme, no-holds-barred unsigned story, each shining as brightly and urgently as hazard lights." (from Amazon.com-- http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1400062640/ref=pd_sbs_b_2/104-0044561-6723177?%5Fencoding=UTF8&v=glance)

Unfortunately, it doesn't sound really like InfernoKrusher, more like a bunch of writers got anonymous and had at it. I mean, with a story by Rosie O'Donnell, I don't see how it could possibly be all *that* demolishing.

But still potentially interesting, anyway.

#116 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 01:13 PM:

At a summer cookout a few years back, one of the amusements was watching a friend's toddler stagger around the backyard while weighed down with a diaper swollen with kiddie-pool water.

The thing looked like an enormous, pale parasitic blob attached to the last part of the body you'd care to have a pale parasitic blob attached to.

[obligatory joke]
"For God's sake, when was the last time you changed him?"

"Huh? Just a couple days ago."

"Two days? What gave you the idea one diaper could last that long?"

"Well, look at the package: '25 - 35 lbs.'"
[/obligatory joke]

#117 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 01:39 PM:

Ok, it's an oldie, but all this talk of experimenting is just forcing me to link to the twinkies project. Includes experiment results in haiku.

#118 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 01:54 PM:

If you throw a twinkie in the water, does it suffer a sea change?

#119 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 02:29 PM:

The baking fats on the scary industrial food products page . . . the very definition of rich and strange.

#120 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 02:37 PM:

Xopher:

FWIW, my dd (who is 9) wore cloth diapers nearly exclusively for the first 3 years.

There's plenty of folks out there using cloth--there's a whole cloth diaper industry. What there mostly aren't, anymore, are diaper services. I think I used one of the last ones in NYC.

We did use disposables when we were going to be away from home for more than a few hours, and later, at night.

Cloth was wonderful.

#121 ::: Jessie ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 02:50 PM:

Diaper services still exist--my sister's using one right now--but there aren't nearly as many as there used to be. There's only one that serves the Boston area, for instance. And Dydee, which was the big name around here from when it opened in 1993, was totally destroyed by the disposable diaper.

#122 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 03:36 PM:

Xopher: once again, we are on the same wavelength - you beat me to the very post I was composing.

I've even conducted that very same experiment with small child/diaper/wading pool; so, while I knew exactly what Kathryn Kramer meant, when I heard mention of a "conventional" diaper, I too first thought of a square of cotton.

It's interesting, watching the language shift.

#123 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 03:37 PM:

Cramer. (Sorry.)

#124 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Xopher, if it makes you feel any better, every time I see the phrase 'conventional diaper' my brain immediately tries to call up examples of nuclear, chemical, or biological diapers.

I'm not sure I'd want to be in the vicinity when any of those explode.

#125 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 04:20 PM:

So what is an unconventional diaper?

(I know - so many choices)

#126 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 04:22 PM:

It probably has to be salt water for it to change into something rich and strange. The Twinkie experiementers used fresh tap water, and it only changed into something gooey.

#127 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 04:27 PM:

Speaking of twinkies, at the Minnesota State Fair, there was a booth selling deep-fried twinkies on a stick. (EVERYTHING at the State Fair is on-a-stick - including pickles)

Years ago, a friend cracked me up after I was high priestess of a Beltane ritual by using a twinkie to simulate a part of the male anatomy, included squeezing it to produce, well, I will leave that up to people's imaginations.

#128 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 04:57 PM:

Magenta, I'm reminded of something that happened at a tribal love feast involving a banana and a can of whipped cream.

It was much, much more amusing than those bare facts (sorry) would suggest.

#129 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 05:49 PM:

Laura: Super-absorbent polymers were indeed used in menstrual products.

Then Toxic Shock Syndrome came along, and they don't do that anymore.

There's not considered to be a problem with dippy-dydees, mainly because a saturated diaper doesn't stay in place for long; there shouldn't be time for the buildup of bacterial nasties that that caused TSS.

And Andrew, all diapers are biological, sooner or later. Someone should probably do a story about infant care among silicon-based parents ("Well, little soft friend, of course the kid dropped a brick. Your point would be?") The heck with getting an sf story into the "literary" magazines; it's time we cracked Redbook.

#130 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 06:05 PM:

As I think about the question of getting fingers into one's mouth, I'm realizing that we haven't specified the orientation of fingers. Almost everyone can get all fingers into the mouth if the hand is held horizontally (you can bite all your third phalanges at once). The measure I've been thinking about is with the hand held vertically -- that is, you are managing four fingers if your upper teeth are on the third phalange of your index finger and your lower teeth are on the third phalange of your pinky. With ring and middle fingers in between.

On a good day I can manage three fingers under that particular construction.

#131 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 06:40 PM:

Tom, that was what I had in mind for my "four without straining" comment as well.

#132 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 08:26 PM:

A great band name would be, Diapers of Mass Destruction.

#133 ::: Terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 08:38 PM:

Tom: I took it to be a vertical orientation.

Three, four hurts a bit, and I have to bow my fingers, so I don't think that really counts.

TK

#134 ::: Karen ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 09:32 PM:

Additional variable: width of fingers varies tremendously, no reason to think it varies proportionately to mouth-opening-gap. (Sorry to interrupt, will return to reader status now)

#135 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 09:33 PM:

Laura Roberts: Yes, they use super-absorbent polymers in menstrual products. Not tampons, because of the risk of toxic shock (I don't think they ever used them in tampons.) They make "ultra thin pads" possible. There are different types of super-absorbent polymer, and the kind they use in diapers absorbs more moisture than what they use in menstrual pads.

#136 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:19 PM:

So do women need to remember to avoid wearing their ultra-thin pads into the swimming pool? Or is that not an issue?

#137 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:42 AM:

Adrian, I believe that the super-absorbents were first advertised in tampons, a few months before the toxic shock outbreak. And I believe, though I may be wrong, that this took place in late 1979 or early 1980, because (too much information of the old lady type follows, so I'm giving it a space)


when I first started menstruating again after the birth of my son I found menstrual products, especially tampons, to be excruciatingly uncomfortable, and I was looking out for non-super-absorbent ones because I thought they would be less painful, and I couldn't find any until after the toxic shock warnings went up all over the place.

#138 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 02:35 AM:

Not sure why I didn't think of vertical orientation--I was just shoving them in there any old way. So my score is four, not five, and it's a bit of a stretch.

#139 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 09:40 AM:

Jeremy: in the pool, most women I know wear tampons (or keepers) even if that is not their usual method. Pads in pools are icky (at least to me).

Are we veering into TMI?

#140 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 10:59 PM:

As long as we have strayed into the things you'd rather not think about in the pool arena, I'll just continue down that path.

I was at Six Flags in MD (before it was Six Flags) and someone's extensions got wrapped around my feet. That was a bit of a shock.

While doing research for my column today I found this interesting tidbit in the history of Lake Compounce, the oldest amusement park in the US:

On October 6, 1846, Samuel Botsford, an influential Bristol scientist, persuaded property owner Gad Norton, an original settler descendant, to let him conduct "a series of beautiful experiments in electricity." Well publicized, the event drew thousands of spectators to witness the demonstration amidst the beauty of the woods and water. Although the final experiment of "blowing up from shore, two huge jugs of gunpowder tied under a raft in the middle of the lake" failed...

When I read that I thought now there is our kind of guy, not just beautiful electrical experiments but also trying to blow things up.

#141 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 11:34 PM:

Now I can imagine t-shirts for "Samuel Botsford, Father of American Recreational Pyrotechnics." Actually, this should probably be a complete series, including people like Wan Hu (Poet-Master of the Ascendant Chair of the Forty-Seven Puissant Rockets). Maybe even one for Georg Friedrich Handel, Official Musician for His Majesty's Celebratory Detonations. Order now and receive plans for this Do-it-Yourself Petard Hoist!

#142 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 11:46 PM:

Baroque fireworks differed from modern ones in two important respects: they were all white (they didn't have the color tech we have now), and they were (relatively speaking) quiet.

It was actually possible to hear an orchestra (remember, without amplification) playing during a baroque fireworks display. The big splashes of light were considered interesting in themselves; gorgeous music was quaintly considered preferable to eardrum-shattering bangs.

#143 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 02:04 AM:

Be careful. Lake Compounce is right across the street from ESPN headquarters. They might get it in their heads to do the next X Games there, complete with big booms.

#144 ::: cyclopatra ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 05:58 AM:

Tom: four fingers, vertical alignment, no strain, no pain. I think I could do all five, if it weren't for the pesky fact that my middle finger activates my gag reflex before I can get my thumb in there. I don't think my mouth is all that big, but maybe it is.

Re: Contact lenses: The absolute worst IME is when they fold in half and then wander off somewhere around the eyelid area. But even reading the contacts-related comments makes me want to sing hosannas to LASIK, remembering all the woes I no longer suffer.

#145 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 09:06 AM:

Oh, I've had my contact fold in quarters and tuck itself behind my eyeball. Fortunately I'm not at all squeamish about touching my eyeballs, so I just squished the eye around until the lens popped out. Rinsed it down, put it back in, went back to work.

Some of my friends who've never worn contacts say "Ewwww! I can't IMAGINE that!! If I even get a grain of dust in my eye..." To which I reply "If the grain of dust were made of well-soaked hydrophilic plastic, it not only wouldn't hurt, you'd never notice it at all."

I'm reasonably certain they don't believe me.

#146 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 04:10 PM:

Does dust come in grains? I always thought the unit of dust was mote. I have never worn contacts and have no desire to, I like being four-eyed.

#147 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 04:58 PM:

Speck, grain, particle, mote (though "mote" seems to be used mainly for airborne dust, usually dancing in some slanting shaft of golden light or other). Dust is past caring. The dust of ages does not place itself above the dust in History's binliner -- indeed, it can't, unless we're talking about the Burgess Shale. Dust, as George Carlin said of the edible variant, crumbs, is indivisible, and to itself constant: if by some microtomous means one divides dust, one does not have fractional dust, subdust, quark bunnies, or even more dust (unless one's cutting was careless); one has dust. Until one finally dusts, at which point one doesn't have dust . . . though, in the way of matter, someone else does.

Next up: how many mustardseeds are necessary to put the mountain back where it started?

#148 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 05:54 PM:

Mike--

One, but the mountain has to want to move.

#149 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 09:36 PM:

Melissa: If you truly need diapers for such an experiment, my sister just unloaded on me a vast trove of (unused) disposable diapers her daughter has outgrown. Problem is Diana, my neice, is not much bigger than Elizabeth. So I suspect I have in the back of my van an adequate supply of polymer.

Let me know if you want some for science projects. I can send them in with David.

#150 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 09:49 PM:

Usage of conventional diapers: what you would get if you walked into a CVS or your local grocery store and grabbed a package of diapers.

The other diapering methods against which this can be compared are cloth diapers of various styles and the more ecologically sound diapers which use cotton fibers rather than polymer for absoption. The existence of these other diapering methods are why I instered the word "conventional."

Regarding the idea of pads in pools, I think that usage of the product is extremely rare. I can't think of any instances that I know of. (Given that this is swimming season and the Age of AIDS, this may not be a topic to be pursued in depth.)

#151 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2005, 11:56 PM:

What's a CVS?

#152 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 12:06 AM:

CVS = Drug store chain, mostly Northeast U.S. Like Walgreen's, Rite Aid, Long's Drugs.

#153 ::: Lois Aleta Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 01:19 AM:

I just saw this story (via Apostropher) that struck me as a cross between this thread and the "Better Bad Sentences" thread:

BRENTWOOD, N.H. -- Emergency workers helped a New Hampshire man out of a difficult situation over the weekend after a friend apparently locked a padlock around his testicles....The man, who was not identified, told them that he had the padlock around his testicles for two weeks.

#154 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 11:45 AM:

Goodness, that sounds uncomfortable.

I notice it's always while they're drunk and passed out that these sorts of things happen. I used to pay medical claims for a man who got drunk and passed out in seven different states and every single time a total stranger inserted a foreign object into his penis. Isn't that the most amazing coincidence?

#155 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2005, 05:43 PM:

Georgiana: Perhaps your serial claimant could identify himself as a Foley artist.

#156 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2005, 08:57 PM:

Mike, that was hilarious.

#157 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2005, 09:41 AM:

Kathryn:

Thanks very much for the kind offer.

DD is mulling over the idea. Alas, we won't need the diapers themselves until some time in the fall, so if you need to clear space, don't worry about holding onto any for me.

I know several women w/babies, mostly through my local single mothers group, so getting hold of diapers should not be that hard if dd decides to do this project (and the science teacher approves it).

#158 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2005, 02:40 AM:

Speaking of lightbulbs in subways, as we were a while back, how many of you caught this AP story?

Gas Air Tests Conducted in NYC

August 08,2005 | NEW YORK -- Government scientists released colorless, harmless gas at four Manhattan locations Monday as part of an effort to find out how fast and far a toxic substance could spread if released in the city.

"It went very well," said Susan Bauer, a spokeswoman for the Urban Dispersion Program, which aims to produce a computerized model of air flow patterns that could help authorities decide how to evacuate people after a chemical or biological attack.

The project started five years ago with pilot programs in Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City.

In March, gas was released in sections of Manhattan to allow scientists to learn about outdoor air patterns in the city. This month's tests will track how gases would move in and out of structures.

"You can use those models to say, `What if something happened here?'" said Jerry Allwine, an engineer with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., who oversees the project.

On Monday, Bauer said, the gases were released in an office building and at three outdoor locations in midtown. There will be five more test days over the next three weeks, depending on the weather.

Air samples will be taken by "tracer" boxes fastened to light poles and stationed on subway platforms, and smaller boxes clipped to the belts of volunteers.

The scientists will conduct a third set of tests in New York next March, and plan to complete their research by 2007.

The $10 million project is sponsored by the federal departments of homeland security, defense and energy.

On the Net:

http://urbandispersion.pnl.gov/

#159 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2005, 10:29 AM:

Speaking, as we were, of diapers - a friend of my mother's is doing research on using some kind of jellyfish-based material as absorber in diapers, as it's capable of holding lots of salt fluids, rather than just (as mentioned above) fresh water. Another friend of mom's apparently worked as a specimen collector for the research this summer, which she found immensely preferable to working as a teacher...

#160 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2005, 12:42 PM:

This evokes a scene from a terrifying future world where wee babes toddle around with jellyfish wrapped around their bums and drug stores sell tentacle-rash ointment.

#161 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2005, 08:41 PM:

I am assuming by "specimen collector" you mean she was collecting jellyfish -- the first and second times I read that it sounded like she was going around collecting baby stools and that seemed like it would be less pleasant than teaching.

#162 ::: Matt Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2005, 03:33 PM:

I've seen the origin of that light bulb question. At one point it appeared on the Darwin Awards site, but I can't seem to find it anymore. A Google search turned up someone who had saved a copy.

http://rudy.mif.pg.gda.pl/~t_cobalt/grafika/bulb.txt

P.S. Strangely enough, I have a cousin named Kathryn, but she's not the one who posts here.

#163 ::: Tamara ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2005, 05:20 PM:

I used cloth diapers on our kids and in the summer of 1994, made a month and a half trip across Canada. Our youngest was still in diapers and living up to my old-fashioned, traditional ways, i kept the baby in cloth diapers and rubber pants for the entire trip. The neat part was all the comments and looks i got from other mothers and everyday ordinary people in the general public when we were out and about.

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